The first train came to me
like this: unstoppable force.
I stood aside at Fredericton Junction
and let the speed and flare approach.
Wind flailed my hair, the gathered dark
dispersed. I found my room
of pull-out bed and pull-up blind.
A solitude so rare, uncracked, I
couldn’t sleep. Morning: I tugged
the shade and empty ponds appeared.
We were that close to something;
the surface still rippled.
We were late for Montréal, New York,
for the years that would come, were gone,
were here. Years of blurred views through
windows. The engine approached,
I was alone, I held my breath
and didn’t let it out, and haven’t.A Word about the Poem by Stephanie Bolster
On the wall of my elementary school library was a poster of a young girl running through a field of daisies. Above her head, the words, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Though placed at just my height, the poster didn’t speak to me. Yet I dimly sensed that one day — like the aging, childless librarian who had taped it there — I would find the sentiment not saccharine but resonant/hopeful. I’ve thought of it often over the years, and although it didn’t come to me in words during the moment that gave rise to “Train Windows,” I embodied its truth.
I was twenty-four, travelling alone for the first time. A westerner on my first trip east, I felt the country (no, the world; no, the universe) expanding. I’d been writing frantically in my journal since arriving early in Fredericton Junction — which, as the name suggests, was itself a hinge, appearing to consist of nothing but a train station beyond the limits of Fredericton. I wrote about what I had seen, about who I was and who I was becoming. Eventually I looked up. While I’d been filling pages, others had arrived. The windows had darkened.
This train would take me through the night, across parts of the States, to Montréal where, after a wait in another station, I would board another train for New York. Exhilarated, anxious, I heard the announcement of the train’s impending arrival and followed the others out into the night. First, nothing. Finally, in the distance, a light, a roar growing near, a tremendous gust.
I didn’t know then that I would return home to find Vancouver insufficient after the ragged vitality of New York, nor that two months later, in still another place, I would meet my future husband and move across the country to be with him. Yet I knew myself to be at a junction in both time and place. If poems — both those I’ve written and those I’ve read — are for me glimpses through windows, they are also, often, moments that mark the beginning of “the rest of your life.”
How the Poem Works by Don Coles
Here’s a poem of a train-journey that works like a Turner painting, all force, speed, fire and darkness, and the narrator doesn’t compete with any of it, she seems scarcely to offer a sound, scarcely a word. In the morning even the ponds are empty. In fact everything’s waiting for the poem’s last five lines, when “the years” enter, and because time itself hasn’t been allowed onto the page until now this entrance comes with a power that can take not just the narrator’s, but also the reader’s breath away. “I held my breath / and didn’t let it out, and haven’t.”
Don Coles has a prose book (memoirs and essays), A Dropped Glove in Regent Street
, due in June from Véhicule Press. There’s also a selected poems appearing in Germany this spring, Die Weissen Körper der Engel
(The White Bodies of the Angels
Excerpted from Pavilion by Stephanie Bolster. Copyright © 2002 by Stephanie Bolster. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.